Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Truth Minista: When Black Wall Street Turns White

When Black Wall Street Turned White

Paul Scott

"Don't It Always Seem To Go That You Don't Know What You've Got Till It's Gone"
Big Yellow Taxi- Joni Mitchell

There was a time when Durham NC was known as the "Black Wall Street of the South." However, today, when I walk down the streets of the former Mecca of black economic achievement, I see only the residue of what was once great. The black owned business which were once an inspiration for generations of African Americans have been replaced by white owned shops selling iced lattes.

I always find it insulting when the media ,rhetorically , ask why has Durham fallen from a black economic paradise " to a refuge for the underprivileged and chronic underachievers?" Faux naivete' aside, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out.

Manifest Destiny; urban renewal; land grab; a darn freeway through Grandma's backyard. Take your pick. It all adds up to the gentrification of the black community.

The economic and cultural rape of people African descent did not start in the 21th century but goes back thousands of years when the Greeks stole black culture from the Ancient Egyptians according to historians like George GM James and William Leo Hansberry. Also during the 15th century, beginning with Portugal, European countries began to rob Africa of her resources. According to Basil Davidson in his book' "The Transatlantic Slave Trade" the initial overtures of partnership and mutual respect eventually resulted in the slaughter of untold millions of African people and the colonization of a continent.

In America, during the 18th and 19th centuries, the enslaved Africans contributed centuries of free labor to the economic development of a country that would not allow them share in its wealth.

The early 20th century brought about the establishment of black business centers in various United States cities, including Durham. During that period ,segregation made black owned businesses a necessity, as African Americans were not allowed to patronize white establishments. This came to an end with the movement towards integration during the Civil Rights Era. At this point, black business began to lose their influence as African Americans began to protest to patronize white businesses, leaving behind the establishments owned by their friends and neighbors.

While it is still widely believed that integration was a moral decision, it was mostly economic, as white business owners saw the profit in milking the resources from the black community.

Yes, urban renewal has destroyed more black communities than Hurricane Katrina. Ask long time elderly residents of Durham about the fate of Black Wall Street and they will tell you with tears in their eyes the devastating effect that the paving of the freeway and other urban renewal projects had on their community.

In more recent years, we began to see a new gentrification strategy being played out, not only in Durham, but in 'hoods across the country. Although the locations may change, the methods of operation remain the same.

First the local newspapers propagate the idea that a community is crime infected. Then property values drop, drastically, and business vultures fly into town to buy properties dirt cheap. Poor housing develops are replaced with condominiums and the displaced residents have to make it the best way they can; often having to resort to criminal behaviour that only serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty, crime and urban renewal.

Since, the companies that buy up the properties usually are the same ones that contribute major advertising dollars to the local paper, the issue of gentrification is usually replaced with PR stories about the land grabbers planting rose gardens in what used to be basketball courts. The fate of displaced residents and businesses is never discussed.

Although many Conservatives often complain that the African American community is not doing enough to "get black folks off welfare" by pooling their resources and establishing self-help institutions, history records that efforts of black empowerment have been, often, undermined, whether it be Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement Organization or the bombing of the other Black Wall Steet, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

One can only imagine the accusations of reverse racism that would come from the Right Wing if all the Black NBA players would form their own basketball league or all the African American Hip Hop artists formed their own entertainment company and made sure that the resources generated circulated throughout the black community.

Unfortunately, as of today, this fantasy world of black empowerment only exists in fictional novels like Ujamaa Khufu's book "Power to the People."

Black self determination has, also, been opposed by Liberals who pushed a false ideology of what writer Harold Cruse called "noneconomic Liberalism" on African Americans. Instead of encouraging the creation of black wealth and independent political power, they shifted the focus to the integration of lunch counters and public toilets.

To put it in more Shakespearean terms, "Foolish is the ruler who would trade his kingdom to sit on a porcelain throne with his enemy."

So what we have in Durham is a, formerly, vibrant black community that is on the verge of ,totally, losing it's blackness.

Today, Parrish Street, in the heart of the former black business district, is lined with tomb stones in the form of markers memorializing black Durham's glorious past. However, black empowerment is not something that can be placed in a glass case and displayed like a museum piece. Black development must be functional and continuously producing economic opportunities for under-served communities.

Even the remaining so called black cultural institutions are so dependent on white philanthropy that they are totally detached from the less affluent kids in the 'hood who need them the most.

Somebody has to renew the call for black social, economic and political empowerment. This is the only way that we can close the educational achievement gap, stop gang violence and cure the rest of the societal ills plaguing Durham and the rest of black America.

If not, 20 years from now when our grandchildren ask us what happened to Durham's black community, we will only be able to quote the Joni Mitchell lyric,

"They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Paul Scott writes for No Warning Shots He can be reached at or (919) 451-8283
For more information on the "Intelligence Over Ignorance" Campaign go to

Check Out The Honorable Min.Paul Scott On W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio:

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Post-Hurricane Katrina Police Misconduct Case: Former Police Officer Pleads Guilty To Danziger Bridge Shooting Cover-up Of Stunning Breadth

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The Real First Black President...

Warren G. Harding, The 29th U.S. President
Our First Black President?

Will Americans vote for a black president? If the notorious historian William Estabrook Chancellor was right, we already did. In the early 1920s, Chancellor helped assemble a controversial biographical portrait accusing President Warren Harding of covering up his family’s “colored” past. According to the family tree Chancellor created, Harding was actually the great-grandson of a black woman. Under the one-drop rule of American race relations, Chancellor claimed, the country had inadvertently elected its “first Negro president.”

In today’s presidential landscape, many Americans view the prospect of a black man in the Oval Office as a sign of progress — evidence of a “postracial” national consciousness. In the white-supremacist heyday of the 1920s (the Ku Klux Klan had a major revival during the Harding years), the taint of “Negro blood” was political death. The Harding forces hit back hard against Chancellor, driving him out of his job and destroying all but a handful of published copies of his book.
In the decades since, many biographers have dismissed the rumors of Harding’s mixed-race family as little more than a political scandal and Chancellor himself as a Democratic mudslinger and racist ideologue. But as with the long-denied and now all-but-proved allegations of Thomas Jefferson’s affair with his slave Sally Hemings, there is reason to question the denials. From the perspective of 2008, when interracial sex is seen as a historical fact of life instead of an abomination, the circumstantial case for Harding’s mixed-race ancestry is intriguing though not definitive.

To anyone who tracks it down today, Chancellor’s book comes across as a laughable partisan screed, an amalgam of bizarre racial theories, outlandish stereotypes and cheap political insults. But it also contains a remarkable trove of social knowledge — the kind of community gossip and oral tradition that rarely appears in official records but often provides clues to richer truths. When he toured Ohio in 1920, Chancellor claimed to find dozens of acquaintances and neighbors willing to swear that the Hardings had been considered black for generations. Among the persuaded, according to rumor, was Harding’s father-in-law, Amos Kling, one of the richest men in Harding’s adopted hometown of Marion. When Harding married his daughter, Florence, in 1891, Kling supposedly denounced her for polluting the family line.

There were rumors of other family scandals as well: the 1849 case in which “one David Butler killed Amos Smith” after Smith claimed that Butler’s wife, a Harding, was black; the suggestion that Harding’s father’s second wife divorced him because he was too much Negro “for her to endure.” In Chancellor’s book, such stories are relayed with a bitter, racist glee — ample reason not to accept them out of hand. But if none of this had any resemblance to the truth, how did all of these rumors get started?

In 1968, the Harding biographer Francis Russell offered an explanation: Harding’s great-great-grandfather Amos told his descendants that he once caught a man killing his neighbor’s apple trees and that the man started the rumor in retaliation — a rather weak story that Russell declined to endorse and that did not silence the mixed-blood rumors. Well into the 1930s, African-Americans claiming a family link continued to pop up in the press. (One decidedly dark-skinned Oliver Harding, supposedly the president’s great-uncle, appeared in Abbott’s Monthly, a black-owned Chicago magazine, in 1932.) As recently as 2005, a Michigan schoolteacher named Marsha Stewart issued her own claim to Harding ancestry. “While growing up,” she wrote, “we were never allowed to talk about the relationship to a U.S. president outside family gatherings because we were ‘colored’ and Warren was ‘passing.’ ”

Genetic testing and genealogical research may one day prove the truth or falsity of such claims. In the meantime, as the campaign season plunges us headlong into a “national conversation” about race, it’s worth thinking about why that truth has been so hard to come by for so long — about what makes it into our official history and what we choose to excise along the way.

Harding’s hometown, Marion, Ohio, provides a case in point. The town gained national fame in 1920 as the site of Harding’s “front-porch campaign”; for weeks, he delivered stump speeches from his well-tended home. Far less well known, as the historian Phillip Payne has noted, is what happened the year before, when a mob of armed white Marion residents drove more than 200 black families out of town, one of a wave of postwar race riots that served to segregate the industrialized north.

As he campaigns to become the nation’s first (openly) black president, Barack Obama likes to say that we’ve begun to put that divisive history behind us. The truth may be that we don’t yet know the half of it. 

Beverly Gage teaches modern U.S. history at Yale University.
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All Eyes Are Still On Mississippi: Free The Scott Sisters!!!

The Scott Sisters (l-r): Jamie & Gladys

Greetings all,

Thanks so much to all of the supporters of Jamie & Gladys
Scott! Jamie reported that she was taken to a vascular clinic
last Monday and an attempt was made to correct the displaced
catheter in her neck, but the doctor had a problem getting into
her vein. Tests were also run to determine whether she had
remaining infection in her body. She is being told that she will
return there next week to see her regular doctor, who was not
present at the time of this visit. She was not given any
information regarding any of the findings by staff.

On Wednesday she began having chest pains following her dialysis
and was taken to the hospital. No blockage was detected following
ultrasound and catheterization of her heart. She was returned
to the prison on Thursday before she was told of any results.

Jamie sounded a bit stronger and her family and your activism
have helped her to regain some of her fighting spirit! She was told
by staff that she will be allowed to purchase some food on Monday
and she is grateful for the donations she has received to be able
to do so! Also, she has been told that the chaplain will be
coming by a couple of days a week to do her laundry.

Jamie should not be in the prison infirmary, locked in a cell
on a hospital bed on the mens' side of the prison, where the
care is absymal and frighteningly inadequate, she has had more
than enough medical emergencies! There is a medical
building on the prison grounds where the environment is greatly
improved and where Gladys can help her tend to her activities of
daily living, as other incarcerated family members are permitted
to do with their ailing relatives. We need the prison officials
to know that we want Jamie to be in the environment most
conducive to her health and well-being as she struggles with
her many life-threatening medical conditions.

Please continue to sign-on to the petition for the
compassionate release of Jamie Scott at and pass the word!

The 2/27 Empowerment Hour Online University radio show hosted
by Bros. Kermit Eady and Earnest McBride featured Mrs. Evelyn Rasco,
Marpessa Kupendua (nattyreb), Nancy Lockhart, and Shakeerah
Abdul al-Sabuur. There was a whole lot of good info put out and
the archive is available to all at

Empress Chi, coordinator of the MWM/Black Women's Defense
League, is organizing a Free the Scott Sisters Demo and Rally
in Mississippi on March 26, 2010. To get involved in planning
this and for more information call 267-636-3802 or e-mail:


One of Mrs. Rasco's legal advisers, Chokwe Lumumba, urged that 
we strive to get support from a medical foundation or institution that 
can help to get Jamie moved into a medical facility ASAP in order to 
save her life.  The infections and her horrible living conditions, her lack 
of consistent dialysis, medications, and nutrition and her serious
illnesses have left Jamie barely able to walk.  If you are able to help 
Jamie purchase her food, or even would like to put money on Gladys' 
books, please go to and register for 
Access Corrections to help them.

Jamie Scott #19197
B Zone, Bed 196
P.O. Box 88550
Pearl, MS 39288-8550

Gladys Scott #19142
P.O. Box 88550
Pearl, MS 39288-8550

Please continue to contact the Governor, prison officials,
politicians and media, there is a lot of renewed focus on the
case of the Scott Sisters and Mrs. Rasco said that information
is going out all over Mississippi radio.  Please continue to
sign onto the compassionate release petition for Jamie at we have almost reached our
goal of 1,000 signatures!

There are some upcoming events for the Scott Sisters
including a gathering at the Capitol in Jackson, MS being 
organized by Bro. Lumumba for next week. The MWM/Black 
Women's Defense League rally is being organized by Empress
Chi for March 26, 2010.  The  "FREE THE SCOTT SISTERS
Protest Demonstration and Rally will also help to further the 
ACTION TASK FORCE that is being coordinated by the 
BWDL  To get involved with the FTSS-Task Force or for 
more information call 267-636-3802 or e-mail:

Please subscribe to the mailing list and check the website
and Facebook Group for updates.  Mrs. Rasco is still 
unable to respond to e-mails as she is away from her
computer, so please send urgent messages to until she returns.

Subscribe to our group:  Send a blank e-mail to and share information!

Facebook Group: Free The Scott Sisters

Thanks to everyone, please help spread the word & ACT!  

Governor Haley Barbour
P.O. Box 139
Jackson, Mississippi 39205
1-877-405-0733 or 601-359-3150
Fax: 601-359-3741
(If you reach VM leave msgs, faxes, and please send letters)
Dorothy Kuykendall

Personal Assistant to Gov. Barbour
(601) 359-3150
P. O Box 3150
Jackson, MS 39205

Christopher Epps, Commissioner of Prisons for the State of Mississippi
723 North President Street
Jackson, MS 39202

Emmitt Sparkman, Deputy Commissioner
(601) 359-5610

Margaret Bingham, Superintendent of Central Mississippi Corrections Facility
(601) 932-2880
FAX: (601) 664-0782
P.O. Box 88550
Pearl, Mississippi 39208

Dr. Gloria Perry, Medical Department (601) 359-5155

Attorney General Eric Holder
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

A complete list of the media that we have listed (feel free to send to anyone
else that you wish to!) is at 

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. TV: The Black Maverick: Dr. T.R.M. Howard, The Forgotten Civil Rights Hero

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Octavius Valentine Catto: The Forgotten Hero...

Civil Rights leader, Baseball Pioneer. He Worked ceaselessly throughout his life toward the goal of establishing full and equal rights for African Americans, including the fight to integrate streetcars in Philadelphia. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, he moved with his family to Pennsylvania as a child and graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University), where he became a professor. He was also a staunch advocate of the Republican Party. 

During the Civil War, Professor Catto was commissioned a major in the First Division of the state's National Guard, helping raise 11 Black regiments for the Union. Because of his efforts, Pennsylvania passed the 15th Amendment in 1869, guaranteeing voting rights for black males. 

In 1866, after black men were rejected from membership in the National Association of Base Ball Players, he established the Pythian Base Ball Club of Philadelphia, where he was captain, manager, promoter and second baseman/shortstop. Typically batting second in the powerhouse Pythian lineup, it was not uncommon for Catto to score a half dozen or more runs a game, according to the Pythian scorecards preserved at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 

Tragically, Catto was murdered by a Mr. Frank Kelly, who resented Catto for his successful efforts of organizing the black vote in the city's 1871 election. After passing Catto on the street, he turned and shot him in the back. In a final irony, Catto ran behind a streetcar, one of the streetcars he had helped integrate, to try and get away. Kelly followed him, and shot him through the heart. Catto died in the arms of a Philadelphia policeman, and was carried to the nearby 5th Ward Police Station, where his fiancĂ©e, Caroline Le Count, formally identified his body. Frank Kelly was acquitted of all charges. 

His funeral, the city's largest public funeral since Lincoln's, and, at that time, the largest funeral ever held in America for a black man, was complete with a parade that included his fellow members of the Pythian club. City offices and businesses closed as he lay in state, in full dress military uniform. According to Dorothy Gondos Beers, writing in "Philadelphia: a 300 Year History", Catto was "the most magnetic and perhaps the most promising leader the Philadelphia black community had yet produced." 

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Friday, February 26, 2010

NOI Saviours' Day Is Upon Us...Feb. 26, 2010-Feb. 28, 2010!

Master W. Fard Muhammad, The Founder Of The Nation Of Islam

In The Name Of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful. I Bear Witness There Is No God, But Allah.
I Bear Witness That Muhammad Is The Messenger Of Allah.

February 15, 2010

Toure Muhammad, 773.531.8798

Nation of Islam celebrates 80 years of service to the Black community and the country; Minister Farrakhan to provide divine guidance during these uncertain times

Star-studded guests to include Wyclef Jean, Raheem DeVaughn, Susan Taylor, Dr. Iyanla Vanzant, Allen Hughes, Frank Lucas, and ‘The Real Freeway’ Rick Ross

CHICAGO—With extremely tough economic times, high levels of crime and violence, a confusing new political reality, and the fear of more horrific natural disasters such as the recent earthquake in Haiti, guidance from the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is needed now more than ever.

The Nation of Islam’s Annual Saviours’ Day Convention will be held February 26 and 27, at the Stephens Convention Center, located at 5555 N. River Road in Rosemont, IL and culminate with a keynote address “The Time and What Must Be Done” by the leader of the Nation of Islam on Feb. 28 at the United Center located at 1901 W. Madison in Chicago.

“I intend in my Saviours’ Day address to provide Divine warning and guidance from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad to the Black community to the American people and to our brother, President Barack Obama,” said Min. Farrakhan. “It is critical that everyone understand the time in which we live so that we can act in the manner that could save our lives,” he continued.

Established in 1930, this year’s convention marks the 80th year of the Nation of Islam’s service to the oppressed and down trodden in North America. Each year, to also commemorate the birth of Master W. Fard Muhammad—the founder of the Nation of Islam—members, world leaders, celebrities, and supporters from all walks of life make the journey to Chicago to attend the annual assembly. The weekend of events equips attendees with the necessary tools to forge self-improvement, community empowerment and global change.

Among the many expected to attend this year include several high profile names such as Raheem DeVaughn, “the Real Freeway” Rick Ross, Frank Lucas, Wyclef Jean, former Jamaican Ambassador Dudley Thompson, Pam Africa, Filmmaker Allen Hughes, Iyanla Vanzant and Susan Taylor of the National Cares Mentoring Movement.

During the entire weekend, much attention will be placed on the current disaster in Haiti where Min. Farrakhan has already been marshalling aid and assistance efforts from the Black community.

“Haiti needs all the assistance she can get. We in the Nation of Islam are organizing our efforts to provide relief and in the spirit of the Million Man March, The Millions Women’s March and the Millions More Movement we encourage everyone to organize their efforts into a National Response to Haiti “If we come together and speak with one voice and use the brightest and best of our minds to organize an effective response to this from the entire Black and Hispanic community of America, what a statement that would make. After we assess what we have done and the success of it, we have a working model for bad days that may soon come upon us,” said Min. Farrakhan.

The Saviours’ Day Convention begins at 9:00 am on Friday February 26 in Rosemont and culminates with the Saviours’ Day address on Sunday. Doors open at 12 noon at the United Center and the program begins at 2:00 pm. For media credentials and more information visit the Saviours’ Day website at To learn more about the Nation of Islam visit

For Media Professionals Interested in covering Saviours Day 2010:
Reserved space for media is limited. Media organizations interested in coverage should respond immediately. To register for media credentials, members of the working press should go to

Requests for media credentials should be submitted by 4 p.m. on Friday, February 26, 2010.
There will be a press mult for the electronic press and video and audio will be provided. All radio and TV media will have to take a feed from the mult to get the head-on and program video. Video cameras will be allowed to get cutaway shots. Writers and print reporters will have seats in the arena. Still photographers will be provided with opportunities to get shots of the crowd and the stage.

Members of the media must present current, official media credentials or a Letter of Assignment on official company letterhead and photo ID on the day of the event. By applying for media credentials you are agreeing to abide by the terms and conditions of our Media Credentialing Policy.


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The Freedom Riders, Then And Now

 After A Mob Attacked a bus with protesters in Alabama in 1961, hundreds more joined the cause.
Bettmann / Corbis

The Freedom Riders, Then And Now
Fighting Racial Segregation In The South, These Activists Were Beaten And Arrested. Where Are They Now, Nearly Fifty Years Later?

* By Marian Smith Holmes
* Smithsonian magazine, February 2009

Freedom Riders "wanted to be a part of this effort to change America." John Lewis, the future congressman, was arrested for his actions.
Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History 

 Georgia Congressman John Lewis.
Eric Etheridge, from Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders, Atlas & Co.

On Sunday, May 14, 1961—Mother's Day—scores of angry white people blocked a Greyhound bus carrying black and white passengers through rural Alabama. The attackers pelted the vehicle with rocks and bricks, slashed tires, smashed windows with pipes and axes and lobbed a firebomb through a broken window. As smoke and flames filled the bus, the mob barricaded the door. "Burn them alive," somebody cried out. "Fry the goddamn niggers." An exploding fuel tank and warning shots from arriving state troopers forced the rabble back and allowed the riders to escape the inferno. Even then some were pummeled with baseball bats as they fled.

A few hours later, black and white passengers on a Trailways bus were beaten bloody after they entered whites-only waiting rooms and restaurants at bus terminals in Birmingham and Anniston, Alabama.

The bus passengers assaulted that day were Freedom Riders, among the first of more than 400 volunteers who traveled throughout the South on regularly scheduled buses for seven months in 1961 to test a 1960 Supreme Court decision that declared segregated facilities for interstate passengers illegal.

After news stories and photographs of the burning bus and bloody attacks sped around the country, many more people came forward to risk their lives and challenge the racial status quo. Now Eric Etheridge, a veteran magazine editor, provides a visceral tribute to those road warriors in Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders. The book, a collection of Etheridge's recent portraits of 80 Freedom Riders juxtaposed with mug shots from their arrests in 1961, includes interviews with the activists re-flecting on their experiences.

Etheridge, who grew up in Carthage, Mississippi, focuses on Freedom Riders who boarded buses to Jackson, Mississippi, from late May to mid-September 1961. He was just 4 years old at the time and unaware of the seismic racial upheaval taking place around him. But he well remembers using one entrance to his doctor's office while African-Americans used another, and sitting in the orchestra of his local movie theater while blacks sat in the balcony.

"Looking back," Etheridge says, "I can identify with what the white South African photographer Jillian Edelstein has said: 'Growing up white in apartheid South Africa entitled one to massive and instant privilege.' "

A few years ago, Etheridge, who lives in New York City and has worked for Rolling Stone and Harper's, began looking for a project to engage his budding photographic skills. During a visit with his parents in Jackson in 2003, he was reminded that a lawsuit had forced the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, an agency created in 1956 to resist desegregation, to open its archives. The agency files, put online in 2002, included more than 300 arrest photographs of Freedom Riders."The police camera caught something special," Etheridge says, adding that the collection is "an amazing addition to the visual history of the civil rights movement." Unwittingly, the segregationist commission had created an indelible homage to the activist riders.

Nearly 75 percent of them were between 18 and 30 years old. About half were black; a quarter, women. Their mug-shot expressions hint at their resolve, defiance, pride, vulnerability and fear. "I was captivated by these images and wanted to bring them to a wider audience," Etheridge writes. "I wanted to find the riders today, to look into their faces and photograph them again." Using the Internet and information in the arrest files, he tracked riders down, then called them cold. "My best icebreaker was: 'I have your mug shot from 1961. Have you ever seen it?' Even people who are prone to be cautious were tickled to even think that it still existed."

Most of the riders were college students; many, such as the Episcopal clergymen and contingents of Yale divinity students, had religious affiliations. Some were active in civil rights groups like the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which initiated the Freedom Rides and was founded in 1942 on Mahatma Gandhi's principle of nonviolent protest. The goal of the rides, CORE director James Farmer said as he launched the campaign, was "to create a crisis so that the federal government would be compelled to enforce the law."

The volunteers, from 40 states, received training in nonviolence tactics. Those who could not refrain from striking back when pushed, hit, spit on or doused with liquids while racial epithets rang in their ears were rejected.

As soon as he heard the call for riders, Robert Singleton remembers, he "was fired up and ready to go." He and his wife, Helen, had both been active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and they took 12 volunteers with them from California. "The spirit that permeated the air at that time was not unlike the feeling Barack Obama has rekindled among the youth of today," says Singleton, now 73 and an economics professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Peter Ackerberg, a lawyer who now lives in Minneapolis, said that while he'd always talked a "big radical game," he had never acted on his convictions. "What am I going to tell my children when they ask me about this time?" he recalled thinking. Boarding a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, "I was pretty scared," he told Etheridge. "The black guys and girls were singing....They were so spirited and so unafraid. They were really prepared to risk their lives." Today, Ackerberg recalls acquiescing and saying "sir" to a jail official who was "pounding a blackjack." Soon after, "I could hear the blackjack strike [rider C.T. Vivian's] head and him shrieking; I don't think he ever said 'sir.'"

John Lewis, then 21 and already a veteran of sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, was the first Freedom Rider to be assaulted. While trying to enter a whites-only waiting room in Rock Hill, South Carolina, two men set upon him, battering his face and kicking him in the ribs. Less than two weeks later, he joined a ride bound for Jackson. "We were determined not to let any act of violence keep us from our goal," Lewis, a Georgia congressman since 1987 and a celebrated civil rights figure, said recently. "We knew our lives could be threatened, but we had made up our minds not to turn back."

As riders poured into the South, National Guardsmen were assigned to some buses to prevent violence. When activists arrived at the Jackson bus depot, police arrested blacks who refused to heed orders to stay out of white restrooms or vacate the white waiting room. And whites were arrested if they used "colored" facilities. Officials charged the riders with breach of peace, rather than breaking segregation laws. Freedom Riders responded with a strategy they called "jail, no bail"—a deliberate effort to clog the penal facilities. Most of the 300 riders in Jackson would endure six weeks in sweltering jail or prison cells rife with mice, insects, soiled mattresses and open toilets.

"The dehumanizing process started as soon as we got there," said Hank Thomas, a Marriott hotel franchise owner in Atlanta, who was then a sophomore at Howard University in Washington, D.C. "We were told to strip naked and then walked down this long corridor.... I'll never forget [CORE director] Jim Farmer, a very dignified man ...walk­ing down this long corridor naked...that is dehumanizing. And that was the whole point."

Jean Thompson, then a 19-year-old CORE worker, said she was one of the riders slapped by a penal official for failing to call him "sir." An FBI investigation into the incident concluded that "no one was beaten," she told Etheridge. "That said a lot to me about what actually happens in this country. It was eye-opening." When prisoners were transferred from one facility to another, unexplained stops on remote dirt roads or the sight of curious onlookers peering into the transport trucks heightened fears. "We imagined every horror including an ambush by the KKK," rider Carol Silver told Etheridge. To keep up their spirits, the prisoners sang freedom songs.

None of the riders Etheridge spoke with expressed regrets, even though some would be entangled for years in legal appeals that went all the way to the Supreme Court (which issued a ruling in 1965 that led to a reversal of the breach of peace convictions). "It's the right thing to do, to oppose an oppressive state where wrongs are being done to people," said William Leons, a University of Toledo professor of anthropology whose father had been killed in an Austrian concentration camp and whose mother hid refugees during World War II. "I was aware very much of my parents' involvement in the Nazi resistance," he said of his 39-day incarceration as a rider. "[I was] doing what they would have done."

More than two dozen of the riders Etheridge interviewed went on to become teachers or professors, and there are eight ministers as well as lawyers, Peace Corps workers, journalists and politicians. Like Lewis, Bob Filner, of California, is a congressman. And few former Freedom Riders still practice civil disobedience. Joan Pleune, 70, of New York City, is a member of the Granny Peace Brigade; she was arrested two years ago at an anti-Iraq War protest in Washington, D.C. while "reading the names of the war dead," she says. Theresa Walker, 80, was arrested in New York City in 2000 during a protest over the police killing there the year before of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed immigrant from Guinea.

Though the Freedom Rides dramatically demonstrated that some Southern states were ignoring the U.S. Supreme Court's mandate to desegregate bus terminals, it would take a petition from U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to spur the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to issue tough new regulations, backed by fines up to $500, that would eventually end segregated bus facilities. Even after the order went into effect, on November 1, 1961, hard-core segregation persisted; still, the "white" and "colored" signs in bus stations across the South be- gan to come down. The New York Times, which had earlier criticized the Freedom Riders' "incitement and provocation," acknowledged that they "started the chain of events which resulted in the new I.C.C. order."

The legacy of the rides "could not have been more poetic," says Robert Singleton, who connects those events to the election of Barack Obama as president. Obama was born in August 1961, Singleton notes, just when the riders were languishing in Mississippi jails and prisons, trying to "break the back of segregation for all people, but especially for the children. We put ourselves in harm's way for a child, at the very time he came into this world, who would become our first black president."

Marian Smith Holmes is an associate editor.
Photographer Eric Etheridge maintains a Web site,, that publishes information about the Freedom Riders.

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